Center Applauds Passage of New Kenyan Constitution A Landmark Development for Women’s Rights

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(PRESS RELEASE) Yesterday, election officials in Kenya announced that voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution, which in addition to increasing civil liberties and enshrining key economic and social rights, promotes women's equality and rights, including reproductive rights. The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of, among others, sex, pregnancy, and marital status and affirms the right to equal treatment for men and women and "equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural, and social spheres." It also establishes equal rights for men and women in marriage and highlights the obligation of both parents to care and provide for a child, regardless of the parents\' marital status.

In terms of reproductive health, every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including the right to health services and reproductive healthcare. The new constitution also clarifies the confusing patchwork of law, policies, and regulations on abortion by spelling out that women are able to terminate a pregnancy when it threatens their life or health. Although the previous legal regime permitted abortion to save the pregnant woman's life, the language was not clearly defined and women and doctors risked imprisonment. Elisa Slattery, regional manager and legal adviser for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights had this response:

"The new constitution remedies what has been a lethal lack of clarity on the abortion law. It is a crucial step in ending the needless suffering and death of women in Kenya from unsafe abortion. Our research has shown that women in Kenya will seek out abortion regardless of the law in order to protect their health, families and livelihood. Kenya's law on abortion has been corrosive -- severely undermining the quality of care women receive when it's legal or forcing tens of thousands to resort to unsafe and clandestine means to end their pregnancies.

"Kenyan women turn to painful and crude ways to end their pregnancies, ingesting bleach, detergent, or other dangerous liquids, inserting sharp objects or seeking out untrained ‘quacks\' for care. Every year, tens of thousands die or suffer debilitating damage to their health.

"Now that there is the promise of safeguarding women's lives and health, it is incumbent upon the Kenyan government to take definitive action to end the scourge of unsafe abortion."